“It’s just time.”
After 40+ years of
looking ahead to the next meet, team or season, Kevin Kinel can finally sit
back and relax.
The boys and girls
head swim coach at Chesterton High School officially retired from coaching
and teaching when the 2018-2019 school year ended last week.
“It’s been awesome
for me,” Kinel said. “I’ve met so many great people and there have been so
many opportunities that have come my way. There just isn’t a lot more I can
“It’s been a great
Kinel’s program is
the most dominant program in Northwest Indiana in any sport.
On the girls’ side,
the Trojans have won 20 straight DAC and Sectional titles and have 24 top 10
finishes at the State Finals. Chesterton was the 2017 IHSAA runner-up.
“Nobody gets into
it for those things,” Kinel said. “They get into it because they love the
sport and they get to work with kids. All that other stuff came and that
made it a fun ride.”
For the boys, the
Trojans have won 23 straight DAC titles, 21 straight Sectional titles, four
State Championships and one National Championship.
“It’s clearly the
premier program in Northwest Indiana,” Chesterton Athletic Director Garry
Nallenweg said. “People know about the Chesterton swim program from across
the state and the nation because of its success through the years.”
Kinel has coached
51 individual and relay IHSAA state champions, along with 18 IHSAA state
records and six National High School public school records. Everything is
proudly displayed on the boards on the wall in the pool area.
(Anderson) won her first title, I decided I was going to put up a board up
for our state champs,” Kinel said. “We had a couple before that and then
Jenni did her thing. I remember it leaning against the wall with three names
on it and I was so proud of it. Now we have had to move things around to get
them all up there.
“No way I could
have envisioned that ever happening.”
The 2007 inductee
into the Indiana Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame started at CHS as an
instructional aide in 1976.
“I helped out with
the Duneland Swim Club and that’s when I realized that this was what I was
supposed to do,” Kinel said.
Kinel also spent
time with the Bloomington Swim Club and became head coach at CHS in 1980,
while also running the Duneland Swim Club.
“I was doing
everything myself and thought I was going to die,” Kinel laughed. “I saw Jim
(Voss) working with a team from Michigan City and saw how the kids reacted
to him and I just knew he had it. I hired him to run things without really
knowing what he knew about swimming just because I loved his energy.
“It’s been an
incredible relationship ever since.”
continues to get fed.
“There is a
built-in system for us from club to high school to college,” Kinel
continued. “We’ve had 100’s of kids that have gone on to swim in college at
100’s of different schools. It’s been a lot of fun, but a lot of work.”
Kinel has more than
his share of stories and memories but pointed to three names that helped
define the program.
(now Kellstrom) being the first multiple state champion, made me believe
that we could make this place special,” Kinel said.
“The one thing I
remember is how much he cared about the swimmers and the team,” Kellstrom
said. “It didn’t stop at the pool. He cared about us academically and he was
invested in us.”
Kellstrom was a
six-time state champion, winning both the 50 free and 100 back three
straight years before moving on to Auburn University.
“He was at my
wedding and always has been a part of my life,” Kellstrom said. “He cared
about the results in swimming but cared more about us with the other aspects
of our lives. He could read the times, but in college it was always about
how my classes were going.
“Now, it’s about
parenting and my kids. Just a great man.”
The next jump came
as Kyle Whitaker helped lead the Trojans to the 2008 and 2009 team state
titles before going to the University of Michigan.
“Kyle took us to
the national level when he started breaking records,” Kinel said. “And the
team title was built around him, even though we had some other great kids on
“Coach was always
able to give me another goal or direction to go in,” Whitaker said. “Day to
day, season to season or year to year. It was little things and big things
that he constantly gave me. We always seemed to be on the same page.
“He constantly made
me want to get better.”
eight individual state titles and won four relay titles. Upon graduation, he
held four state high school records and the national record in the 200 IM.
“He didn’t treat
anybody differently,” Whitaker said. “He pays attention to every single swim
at big meets and dual meets. He remembers, and coaches, everybody. Not just
the top kids. I saw firsthand, kids that may have not swam before that were
making the Sectional finals or State team as a senior.
everybody had a chance to get there and he treated them that way.”
elevated the program even more as he helped the Trojans win the 2013 and
2014 team state title, along with the 2014 national championship, before
going on to IU.
Still going strong,
Pieroni won a gold medal in the 2016 Olympics as a member of the 4x100 free
“Blake’s era had
such a great group of swimmers and then winning a national title,” Kinel
said. “Blake was so driven. He was always trying to out do Kyle’s times
growing up. Then, Blake makes an Olympic team and brings home a gold medal.
That’s a whole different level.”
“It’s hard to put
into words,” Pieroni said. “He kickstarted everything for me. He made me
good enough to swim in college and beyond. He taught me everything I know.”
At the 2018 Short
Course World Championships, Pieroni won his first international gold medal
by winning the 200 free and then was part of the world record breaking 4x100
“I still keep in
touch,” Pieroni said. “We have a lot of conversations about the sport in
general. We both love it.”
After winning 53
DAC titles and 51 Sectional titles, Kinel had to find a way to celebrate.
“Somewhere in the
early 2000’s probably,” Kinel said of the first time he ‘flipped’ after a
win. “That started because the kids started dumping the Gatorade ice bucket
on me. When you are just in a polo at the pool, it feels like it’ll stop
“I decided I better
start something else.”
Kinel has made more
than his fair share of flips over the years, without many 10’s, but the
reaction is always the same.
“I got on the
diving board to jump in and everybody got all fired up, so I did a flip,”
Kinel said. “That just kind of became the thing. It was a way to celebrate
and not get hurt.”
Kinel had trouble
reflecting on his career but knows that will come in time.
“When you look at
the championship teams and all the stories behind them,” Kinel said. “The
blood, sweat and tears that those kids poured into that. I can sit back now
and laugh at the thing’s kids did that I didn’t think were funny at the
‘Now all the
pictures and things I’ve kept and never really looked at will be a lot more
meaningful than they were.”
Kinel was quick to
point out some of his fondest memories, and most gratifying moments, didn’t
come as the head coach of the Trojans.
“The teaching end
of things has been so rewarding,” Kinel said. “Teaching lifeguards to keep
the pools and beaches safe in the area. There were so many kids in class
that feared the water and swimming and then seeing their sense of
accomplishment when they did it.
“The whole package
has been rewarding. Almost like a dream.”
And not all the
teaching went to his classes.
“I feel really
proud of all the accomplishments, but I feel like I’ve helped kids be better
people,” Kinel said. “We’ve tried to help them with discipline, self-image
and goal setting. We’ve had to go to places where kids have had to speak in
front of people. I think it’s important for kids to learn those lessons.
“One of the reasons
we’ve always gone to the big invitationals is that kids have to know that
there are obstacles out there and things aren’t always going to be smooth.”
“Kevin is the
consummate professional both in the classroom and as a coach,” Nallenweg
said. “He puts his heart and soul into everything. He’s run the program his
way, the right way. You can’t take shortcuts and Kevin never did.
known Kevin forever. We went to CHS together and grew up in the same
neighborhood. We bummed around together and created a lot of great memories.
I’ll miss having him in the building.”
The pool at CHS may
not officially be named for Kinel, but you can understand why he feels so
“I was at the, now
middle school pool, for about 20 years and then this one was built,” Kinel
said. “So, I started everything here at this school. That’s hard for me.
When I started in 1980, there were people there before me and I was trying
to build and add to that.
“This pool has some
definite sentimental value.”
Kinel’s name may be
at the top of the food chain, but he’s sure to point out that he didn’t do
“I’ve been so
blessed to be a part of this,” Kinel said. “The community and administration
have always been so supportive. The Duneland Swim Club has been great and
the parents have been awesome. I feel like we’ve moved it in the right
direction and now it’s someone else’s turn.
Jim Voss, Christy Kallay and especially special thanks to all the assistants
I’ve had over the years like the current group of Pat Ward, Holly Williams
and Mike Diaz.”
But, at the end of
it all, Kinel knows where his biggest loyalties lie.
“I feel like I owe
it to (my wife) Barb and my family,” Kinel said. “I’ve gone 24/7 365 for 40+
years. I have grandkids in California and I don’t want to miss out on them
growing up. I’ve put my life on hold, and I don’t want to do that anymore. I
want to be freed up to do those things.
“It’ll be nice to
sit back and enjoy what’s happened over the last 40 years of teaching and
coaching. And making new memories.”